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The Mistress of Downing Street

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Michael Joseph, London, 1972
(hardback price: £2.50; 192 pages)

The blurb on the back:

In the 1990s the beautiful Viola Jones becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain in succession to her husband, who has been murdered.
The western world is in a state of abject spiritual and moral decay, human beings having allowed themselves to become the creatures of a computer-controlled, robotic economy largely operated by one man, Janus Thudd, who detests mankind.
Viola conceives it her duty to arouse the West from its rest-camps, violence parks and philosophy of cradle-to-grave pensions, and tries to achieve this by her uniquely intimate way of pursuing her foreign policy.
Having failed, she joins forces with an anarchic group, the New Luddites, and makes one last effort to salvage the western world from complete destruction.

opening lines:
There is little time left for a description of Edward Jones, who is on his way from the roof of the United Europe Building to the ground.

The British Prime Minister is assassinated by a robot, and the Cabinet chose his 25-year-old widow, currently the Minister of Tranquillity & Leisure, to take his place. (Incidentally, isn’t it revealing that these ‘first woman Prime Minister’ novels have to evolve such elaborate strategies for getting their woman in? No one seems to have considered the more direct route: a woman is elected leader of her party and then wins a General Election.) Being a woman, of course, it isn’t long before she’s developing a new approach to international relations by hopping into bed with both the American President, Bloxham Fabergé (first black President, by the way) and the Soviet Prime Minister, Anatoli Granovsky. Meanwhile dissatisfied male politicians and their allies are conspiring to overthrow her, driven on by the man whose robotic industrial empire controls most of the ‘free world’.

If it all sounds a bit trashy, that’s because it is, but in a fun kind of way. There are some great little gags, including the Cabinet Secretary being named Sir Lumley Glumley, and there are some neat inversions: Russia has embraced the principles of a capitalist economy, while the West is so dominated by a single corporation that competition has virtually ceased to exist, leaving America and Europe as monolithic quasi-fascist states. I also liked the idea that nuclear weapons have been negotiated away, so Mongolia – still occupied by the Chinese – is in a pretty powerful position when it is rumoured that they have acquired a single bomb. And I enjoyed moments like this, where the French President (M. de Brie) is explaining why Britain should stop trying to disrupt the brave new world:

’It is much better to be known for your tranquillity, your acquiescence in the facts of a life where your historic national virtues of courage and independence no longer apply. Courage is a wasted quality when there is no danger. As for independence, what can you be independent of? The era we live in? No, there has been through history a time to blaze and a time to smoulder, a time to rebel and a time to establish…’ (p.117)

But, despite these bits, I have to say that as a whole it doesn’t really hang together too well. It fails to grip somehow. Which leaves it as a sporadically entertaining piece, primarily of historical interest.


from the maker of:
The Fifth Horseman

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